Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bayless Dishes On State Dinner Menu...Again

Holy mole, Bayless!
Today on NPR, State Dinner guest chef Rick Bayless chats about the Mexican "street food" he'll be making for Wednesday's State Dinner at the White House, in honor of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Typically, the First Lady announces the State Dinner menu on the day of the event. That, as well as the guest list and entertainment, are State Secrets, and revealed at the last possible moment. But Bayless has already dished up some details to the New York Times, and continues to stir the pot today.

Those inside the White House, however, are keeping mum about what will be laid on the formal table, and all other details.

For instance, when Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses was queried about the deserts he'd be prepping for the State Dinner, he stuck strictly to tradition and protocol.

“This is Mrs. Obama’s house,” Mr. Yosses said. “It’s not my place to say what dessert she might serve.”

Camille Johnston, Mrs. Obama's director of communications, told NYT that the reason for not releasing menu details was because “nobody tells guests what they are eating a week before.”

Bayless has also let slip the number of guests who will attend the State Dinner: He's said his main worry is "Cooking for 200 in a kitchen I have never been in."

“Two hundred is a hard number,” Bayless said. “When you get above 100 people for dinner like this you really have to rely on a lot of hands.”

Bayless announced he's using ingredients from the Kitchen Garden, and he elaborates a bit on the whole project with NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. Bayless has never been inside the White House kitchen, and says he expects it to be "remarkable." He dubs himself "astonished" when he got the call to be guest chef, although he might be the only one. Most foodies were betting on Bayless as soon as the State Dinner was announced in March. He's the hometown Obama fave, and he's also the American master of Mexican cuisine. Below, the transcript of the NPR interview, in which Bayless waxes poetic about the "27- or 28-ingredient" Oaxacan black mole he says he'll be making for Wednesday night.

Bayless also said he'll be making a Green Ceviche with Cucumber for the State Dinner; the recipe is here. An open question: Will Bayless, a Twitter obsessive, be tweeting from the White House kitchen?

The full NPR transcript:

Rick Bayless Serves Street Food At The White House

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Next week, the Obama White House will host its second state dinner. And this time, in honor of Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, the chef will be Chicago's Rick Bayless, winner of America's Top Chef, multiple James Beard Awards, and a man who through his restaurant, books and appearances has transformed Mexican food into a four-star cuisine.

Chef Bayless joins us now from Los Angeles. Rick, thanks very much for being with us.

Chef RICK BAYLESS (Owner, Frontera Grill, Chicago): It's a pleasure to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The Obamas know your place, don't they?

Chef BAYLESS: They do. They were regular customers before they moved to Washington.

SIMON: So, how did this come about? You get a phone call one day saying, could you make dinner for 200 people at White House, and one of them is the president of Mexico?

Chef BAYLESS: Yes, I actually we did. That's the way...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Chef BAYLESS: ...it was done. And it was a pretty astonishing moment for me.

SIMON: New York Times says there's going to be a mole to beat the band on the menu. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Chef BAYLESS: Well, it's an interesting thing to me because obviously most people in the United States think - still think of Mexican food so much in terms of the simple street foods like tacos and such. And I certainly wanted to feature something that I consider to be Mexico's greatest dish. So, yes, Im going to be making a mole and I think it's got 27, 28 different ingredients in it.

SIMON: I guess a lot of people know that we're friends.

Chef BAYLESS: Yes.

SIMON: And you believe in locally-grown ingredients, including from your own garden.

Chef BAYLESS: Thats exactly right.

SIMON: Can you schlep anything from your garden to the White House?

Chef BAYLESS: Oh, no. Thats the hardest part. There's no ingredient that we're going to be bringing from home. The biggest challenge for me is to actually create the food that we do in our restaurants in the White House kitchen. I think there will probably be aromas in that kitchen that have never been there before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, and thats the point of it. Isnt it, come to think of it?

Chef BAYLESS: I hoping so.

SIMON: Have you seen the kitchen?

Chef BAYLESS: I've never seen the kitchen before and it's going to be really a remarkable...

SIMON: Didnt you watch "West Wing?"

Chef BAYLESS: I - you know, I never watched the "West Wing."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Chef BAYLESS: And I dont know if it would have even been an accurate description of what it is. But I have to say that I've seen picture of it and I know that it's very well equipped. And we have talked with Cris Comerford, the chef there, and she has assured us that we'll have everything that we need to create our moles and ceviches and all that sort of stuff. So, I feel like that Im in really, really good hands.

SIMON: Rick, isnt it true in the White House kitchen there always has to be a taster on duty to taste the stuff before it goes out?

Chef BAYLESS: Ill tell you afterwards. I have never cooked there before, so I dont really know.

SIMON: Seems to me I read that. And I raise the issue now because if there's one job in the executive branch for which I am qualified, it would be to be your taster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Chef BAYLESS: I would certainly welcome that. Well, we'll have to put your name on the list.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Rick Bayless is chef of the Frontera Grill at Topolobampo in Chicago, and creator of Frontera gourmet foods. Thanks so much, Rick.

Chef BAYLESS: Oh, it's a pleasure to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: This is NPR News.